tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly PBS September 9, 2012 10:00am-10:30am PDT
coming up, the role of religion at the democratic national convention. plus, a novelist who's also a catholic deacon on how faith is reflected in his work. >> major funding for "religion and ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based private family foundation dedicated to religion, community development, and edution. additioal fundinglso provided by mutual of america, designing
customized, individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. the jane hensen foundation. and the corporation for public broadcasting. >> welcome. i'm bob abernathy. it's good to have you with us. for today's start of our 16th year on the air. president obama accepted his party's nomination for re-election at the democratic national convention in charlotte is week lat week our managing editor kim lauten reported on religion at the republican national convention. today, the democrats and religion's sometimes controversial role at their gathering. >> in accepting the democratic nomination, president obama sounded several religious themes. >> we draw strength from our victories and we learn from our mistakes but we keep our eyes fixed on that distant horizon,
knowing that providence is with us and that we are surely blessed to be citizens of the greatest nation on earth. >> he also made reference to his personal faith. >> and while i'm very proud of what we've achieved together, i'm far more mindful of my own failings, knowing exactly what lincoln meant when he said, i have been driven to my knees many times by the overwhelming conviction that i had no place else to go. >> for years, democrats have battled the public perception that their party is not friendly toward religion. and that battle was evident again this week. controversy erupted after the initialy approved democratic platform had removed any explicit mention of god. then, in a last-minute floor action, delegates reinserted a reference to god-given potential from the 2008 platform. river render rec hearkens is director of faith outreach for the democratic national
committee. he said the democratic platform always contained a strong and specific appreciation of faith. >> people of faith make up a significant and important and valuable part of who we a as democrats and that's across the spectrum of faith traditions. we are committed to the values and ideals that people of faith hold and that we have a president who's expressed that consistently and persistently. is we just want to make sure that message gets out and that's our task. >> according to hearkens this week has the largest amount of official faith-related events ever at a democratic convention. each floor session is opened and closed with prayers by a diverse array of religious leaders. in addition the dnc organized day prayer gatherings. and twice during the week the faith council helped panel discussions where delegates and guests from the religious community reflected on faith and national issues. also this year the democrats invited a prominent nun, sister
simone campbell, from the lobby group network, to address the delegates on the floor. she gave a rousing faith-based critique of proposed republican budget cuts and their potential impact on the poor. >> together, we understand an immoral budget that hurts aeady-strugglng fmili does not reflect our nation's values. we are better than that. >> hearkens acknowledged faith-based attention was strategic for democrats. >> faith communities are such an inherent place of mobilization and engagement. >> in the last presidential election, 54% of catholics voted for president obama. he also did very well among jewish voters, black protestants, and those who say they don't affiliate with any particular religion. john mccain did slightly better among protestants overall. the vast majority of evangelicals voted republican. democratic officials said they're taking no constituency for granted in this campaign, but there are challenges in many parts of their faith coalition.
>> lead us not into temptation. >> catholics will be key, especially given their large numbers in battleground states. for many catholics the democratic party's strong support for abortion rights remains a stumbling block. democrats for life has been pushing the party to include their perspective. at the same time they've been working to convince catholics that it's okay to vote democratic. >> when i look at the policies outside of the abortion arena, when i look at things like medicaid and the aaffordable health care act and community health centers and public housing programs, these are all programs that are proven, you know, to have a good impact in lowering the abortion rates in the united states. >> steven snack is co-chair of catholics for obama. he asserts that the proposed republican budget cuts will lead to more abortions. >> thinking about that, i -- i
have to say, you know, i'm morally challenged to think about supporting romney/ryan as a pro-life voter. >> on the jewish front there was outrage after the democratic platform eliminated a previous provision asserting that jerusalem is and will remain the capital of israel. that provision was later reinserted, along with the mention of god. republican jewish activists have been arguing president obama is vulnerable among jewish voters because of his policy onisrael. but leaders here said it's strong to stereotype jewish views. jeremy is the president of "j-street." >> there's a wide range of views when it comes to israel. turns out the majority are moderate in their views and not as hawkish and militant as the loudest voices that are heard. >> he's confident jews will vote for obama in high numbers in november. >> that vote is not up for grabs in any significant way,
certainly not when it comes to israel. >> we're standing because we do not believe in same-sex marriage. >> among some black protestants there was concern earlier this year after president obama changed his position to now support same-sex marriage. >> it's a major significant issue for the black church. you know, the black community holds to a core sense of values. and one of those values is family. and to support gay marriage is to do away with family. >> the delegates here who also oppose gay marriage say it hasn't evoeded support for obama in their community. >> you want to take one issue and just throw out everything that he's trying to work for because of one issue? i can't do that. >> meanwhile democrats have been working to make inroads in other religious communities that are traditionally republican, such as evangelicals. a group of local churches held a prayer rally before the convention, focusing on what they call the spiritual and moral decline in america.
democratic activists are trying to make the case the economy is also a moral issue. >> a lot of our values as christians are about taking care ofhe least of these. it's concerni the poor, immigration, caring for people through -- with mercy. we're looking at things in a way in a context of mercy, compassion. and that's where the bible really talks about, that's what jesus tells us to. >> i'm a democrat because i am a mormon. >> while most members of the church of jesus christ of latter-day saints are republicans, a new group called lds democrats argues that the democratic party is actually a better fit with their values. >> as i think about how we're to put charity above all other virtues, i then think to myself, okay, which political party most closely follows the virp due of charity and compassion? and clearly it's the democratic
party. >> his wife jamie, a delegate from utah, has a rare illness. for them, affordable health care is the most pressing issue. i asked if they weren't even a little tempted to vote for fellow mormon, mitt romney. >> it's tempting. because i would love to see a mormon president. but when comes down to the values that are the most important to me, i have to stick to those. >> amid all the faith-based outrage there were some cushions. reverend c.weldon gaddy said while religion should have a vision russ role in public life, there are fine lines that shouldn't be crossed. >> i'm going against both parties when i say this. i don't feel really good about religious outreach that says we want to take the role of e church and use that as a role for enlisting people to support our party. religion's role in this nation
has always been most important when congregations acted like religious bodies, not political bodies. >> religion, he believes, should contribute to something larger than politics. >> bringing together our nation is more important than who wins an election. on the day after the eltion, we've got to be a nation that has learned enough from this past several years that whoever wins, we can come together and say, we're going to make this nation what it ought to be. >> i'm kim lauten in charlotte. in other news, the first u.s. catholic bishop criminally chargedith failing to report
suspected child abuse by a priest has been found guilty on 1 misdemeanor count. kansas city bishop robert finn was convicted thursday of not reporting a priest after child pornography was discovered on the priest's computer. finn was given a suspended sentence of two years' probation. he will not serve any time in jail. the united nations this week said 100,000 refugeesled syria in august, the highest total since fighting began there. a record number of people were killed last month, 5,000. 1,600 of them children. meanwhile, christians in syria are urging pope benedict xvi to address the conflict during his three-day trip to lebanon next weekend. the pope will meet with political and religious leaders and celebrate an outdoor mass in
beirut. we have a profile of r hansen, a novelist with a strong imagination. >> reading from the holy gospel according to matthew. >> nearly every day as he has for most of his adult life, ron hansen attends mass. for this deacon at st. joseph of cupertino parish in california, the ceremony brings both comfort and renewal. >> i find nourishment in it. it's a way of being quiet for a while. d et my md focus on just communication with god. >> hansen's religious sensibility isn't limited to rituals like this. it also infuses all eight novels written by this highly acclaimed author. you really do see writing as a kind of sacrament, don't you? >> yes. it's a witness to what god is
doing in the world. we're supposed to worship and praise, and i can't think of a better way of worshipping and praising than to write poetry or fiction. >> why? why did you have to come? >> because you're my son. >> "missing pieces" is the made for tv movie of hansen's novel "att "atticus." the story of the prodigal son. >> i began with the story of my grandfather and the idea of god walking on earth. i thought of atticus as the god figure. the prodigal son story is a god figure and a human being figure. >> hansen's "assassination of jesse james" exploration the relationship between the legendary outlaw played in the film adaptation by brad pitt -- >> open that safe. >> -- and bob ford, an outlaw
who once worshipped james. >> can't figure it out. you want to be like me? or you want to be me? >> it's about hero worship and how you kill the things you love. i think bddhance said, yo must kill all your teachers. i think that's what was going on with bob ford and jesse james. >> hansen draws on the biblical story of cain and abel. when bob ford shoots jessie james in the back, ford, who expected to be praised for that, was instead reviled. >> how do you become, for a short time, a hero, then become one of the most loathsome personalities in the world? >> like cain, a fugitive and volkswagen vagabond on the earth yes. once you do that, how do you redeem yourself? >> does bob ford find redemption? >> he doesn't, no. >> he grew up in omaha,
nebraska, along with his twin brother and three sisters, in a catholic household. he graduated from creighton, university, and a writers workshop where he studied with john irving and john cheever. >> can an author have a favorite? is it like a child? >> it's like a child. >> hansen does extensive research for each novel. wonderful his best-known, "mariat in ecstasy jarks based in part on two saints in the 1800s, the story of a beautiful nun who bears the wounds of christ, the significant mata, and who is banished from her order. >> i developed this idea of the significant mata as kind of a metaphor for a passionate love affair with christ. and that was the stumbling blocks for the other nuns. i wanted to have at the heart of it a questionableness so you could read it all the way through and say, she's making up this, or you could say, she's the real thing.
i didn't want to come down one way or the other. my own impression was she was the real thing. >> perhaps the clearest sense of hansen's own faith is in his novel "exiles" with us gripping portrait of the priest gerard manly hopkins who found god and was still tormented. >> i loved his poetry, i loved his language, i loved the fact that he was miserable. at the same time he discovered that he could bring in his poetry and make it a reflection of his spirituality. >> hansen, a talented painter, didn't just paint a portrait of hopkins and study his poetry. >> you said at some point that you have actually prayed to him. >> yes. >> and been answered. >> yes. i've prayed to thomas merton, to a lot of people who have died, just because i knew them better. >> you invoke their name at the outset of the prayer? >> no, i just imagine them sitting there opposite me, talking just as i am to you.
and try to express what's going wrong or what i need an answer to. and sometimes they give me the answers. >> hansen, once the deacon at santa clara mission on the campus of the jesuit college santa clara university, has been teaching english and creative writing there for the last 16 years. he is no fan of so-called christian fiction, which hansen says is often in fact pallid allegory, a form of sermonizing. that's not for him. >> i'm trying to pass on the good news and it might not necessarily be the good news of jesus christ, it might be the good news of this beauful world we live in and how we could make it better. so that's the evangelism i'm looking for. i'm trying to change people in su subtle ways but not to convert them. >> he says faith-inspired fiction and religion can go hand in hand because each faces what he calls the imponderables of
life. you say fiction and religion often share the same goals? >> yes. >> in what way? >> essentially, fiction shows you how to live a moral life. or howto avoid an immoral life. and religion is trying to do that same thing. but fiction provides you models rather than lessons. >> i've got that diaz book to read on the plane. >> now 63, hansen is happily married to writer bo caldwell, whose novel "city of tranquil life" was inspired by her missionary grandparents. if you think ron hansen's role as a roman catholic deacon and as author of racy, sometimes salacious material, light conflict, well, think again. >> fiction has to do that story. has to do the story of people making terrible mistakes and seeing how it could have been
different, or how they came out of it in a positive way. and that's what the whole of religion is, to do exactly the same thing. >> from jesse james to a beautiful nun, from atticus to gerard manly hopkins, hansen says he has come to believe that religion need not be sackcloth and ashes. >> that's not definitely what god is looking for. god is looking for a connection, one on oneness with people. that feeling of god watching over you and loving you and embracing you. and having that connection that's very rewarding. that's what gives people steel so they can stand all the terrible things that might happen in a person's life. >> reflections of a catholic deacon who entertains as he evan evan evangelieses, uniting the worlds of fiction and faith.
cardinal carlo martini, former archbishop of milan, died last week from parkinsons disease. he was 85 years old, a jesuit, biblical scholar, sometimes mentioned as a future pope. he was known as a rare liberal voice in the catholic hierarchy. one of the cardal's many iendsas the scholar and writer harvey cox. he is the hollis research professor of divinity at harvard university. professor cox, welcome. >> thank you, glad to be here. >> as you remember your friend cardinal martini, what stands out? what were his outstanding characteristics for you? >> the first thing that comes to mind is the kind of graciousness, intelligence. he was a scholar before he was a bishop or an archbishop or a cardinal. enormous ciosity.
his wiingnss and eagerness to listen all around to all kinds of different people and to learn. but mainly, i think just the word grace. it's customary to call bishops, i think, "your grace." sometimes it fits, sometimes it doesn't. but with martini, it certainly did. he was a gracious and open and personal man. >> and in a gentle way, you have said, i think in a gentle way pretty critical of the catholic church, he told an interviewer a few weeks ago, i read, that he thought the church was 200 years behind the times. how did he want it to change? >> yes, one of his great gifts, i think, was to be thoughtfully critical without being polemical. he could raise issues in a way that didn't make him any enemies. but he had a lot of interests.
first of all, his main big interest was to what he called dentralize a church ich has become enormously rome-centered in the last 200 years or so of catholic history. and to enlist the energy and creativity of all the different parts of the world, the catholic church is a universal church. there are catholics on every continent now. >> he also proposed discussion, at least, of some really controversial matters. >> he did. >> ordaining women deacons. >> right. >> no longer requiring prits to be celibate. >> that's right. he wanted to at least raise the question for further discussion about priestley -- about requiring priests be celibate, about women as deacons, about conversations of other religious traditions in a more serious
way. but my point that is he had these positions but he had them in a way that was persuasive and open and always in the tone of inviting discussion. and not staking out a position. i think that was martini's great strength. >> did he seem to you the last liberal cardinal in the catholic hierarchy? >> you know, i think in some ways the word liberal doesn't quite capture martini. he was -- he avoided labels. and he wanted to be a voice in the church for a very large segment, he thought, of the church, not just one little tiny wing. i would call it the open ecumenical, forward-looki, vionarwingof the church that doesn't always just look back to the way it was but has a vision for the future. that was really his strength. >> and quickly, what was the vatican reaction to these suggestions that he made? did they think he was kind of
off the reservation? >> it was pretty much to ignore them. i mean, he was never overtly disciplined or condemned. he was always listened to. but nothing ever really happened. i think that was because the direction that the leadership of the church was going in rome at the time was not in accord with many of the ideas that martini had, alas. >> harvey cox of harvard university, many thanks. we continue this conversation online on our website at pbs.org. finally, in south korea, thousands of mourners this week honored the reverend sung myung moon, founder of the unification church. moon died monday after suffering from pneumonia. he was 92. moon started his church in south korea in 1954. he claimed millions of members
from around the world and was especially known for performing mass weddings. in his ministry moon taught he was completing the unfinished work of jesus. that's our program for now. i'm bob abernathy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us any time on smartphones. there's always much more on our website as well, including more about religion and politics and more of my coersation with professor harvey cox. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, scenes from the democratic national convention. >> i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america and to the republic for which it stands, one nation
under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. >> major funding for "religion and ethics newsweekly" is provided by the lily endowment, an indianapolis-based private fami foundation dedicated to its founder's interest in religion, community development, and education. additional funding also provided by mutual of america, designing customized, individual and group retirement products. that's why we're your retirement company. the jane hensen foundation. and the corporation for public broadcasting.